New accounts have revealed that University College Cork spent almost €4.5 million paying 39 suppliers without complying with public procurement guidelines within a year. The Office of Public Procurement issues guidelines to ensure government expenditure achieves the best value for money for the public.
The university itself declared €3.9 million paid out to 34 suppliers for the year up to September 30th, 2016. The declaration was followed by an audit by the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), the constitutional office’s office’s mission is to “provide the independent assurance that public funds and resources are used in accordance with the law, managed to good effect and properly accounted for.” It also works to “contribute to improvement in public administration.” The audit revealed a further amount of approximately half a million euro to be non-compliant.
The C&AG assessed 17 of UCC’s suppliers. Five of those suppliers receive the largest amounts from the university, amounting to over €14 million. Twelve other suppliers were assessed at random. The amount paid to the twelve companies totalled €3.3 million.
UCC claims the €3.9 million they declared was spent mainly on recruitment agencies and IT suppliers. The university has expressed its intentions to consider more affordable alternatives for recruitment agencies, but stated that it will be unable to step away from the IT suppliers because of the infrastructure and software currently in place.
A UCC statement of internal governance and internal control states “The university is committed to continuously reducing this non-compliant spend in compliance with national and EU procurement guidelines.”
The revelation of non-compliant spending comes during a time when universities are facing increased pressure over their financing.
Dermot O’Mahoney, UCC’s honorary treasurer, reported a surplus of €14.5 million over the year, however the amount was reduced to half a million after deductions. He noted such financial changes in recent years as UCC’s increased student intake. Nevertheless, the main state grant has fallen to €43.3 million, from a previous amount to €94 million in 2009.
O’Mahoney has noted that “The failure nationally to agree a model and an appropriate level of funding for the university sector continues to threaten long-term sustainability.” He added that “A new sustainable funding model for the sector is now urgently required to enable UCC play its role in supporting the economic, cultural and social development of the region and of Irish society.”
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has, in the past, been critical of the financial affairs and practices of several Irish universities, including UCC. In July 2017, the PAC published a report which identified issues around procurement practices in universities. The report pointed to a spend of €616,000 by UCC in 2013-14 which was found to be non-compliant with procurement rules.
The PAC report also pointed to “a major failure of corporate governance” where universities failed to submit their financial accounts until, in some cases, years after they were required by the C&AG. NCAD and NUI Galway delayed submitting their accounts for 37 and 26 months respectively.
The Irish Times reported in May 2017 that universities such as NUI Galway, UCC and UL have resisted declaring tens of millions of euro in private trusts and foundations which ultimately benefit the universities.